FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame mens basketball coach Mike Brey is ready to establish his team in a new conference.
The Irish moved from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports except football and hockey in July, and after a nonconference slate that saw Notre Dame lose four games and its top player, it is time to dive into ACC play as the Irish (9-4) play host to No. 7 Duke (11-2) at 4 p.m. today.
When we had success against programs back when I first got the job (at Notre Dame) like Connecticut, Syracuse, Georgetown, those were program kind of wins for us, said Brey, who is in his 13th season with the Irish. That gave us an endorsement, and we looked to become legitimate players in the Big East.
I think you have the same situation with Duke. If you can have success against a program like that, I think it endorses your program, and it would endorse this team that is still trying to find itself.
Notre Dame is still trying to find itself after 13 games because of the loss of Jerian Grant after the fall semester because of an academic issue.
The senior guard was suspended for the spring semester and the rest of the season after the Irish let a late lead slip away in a 64-61 loss to No. 3 Ohio State (14-0) on Dec. 21 at Madison Square Garden. Grant was the Irishs leader in scoring (19 points per game), assists (6.2 per game) and steal (24) in the first 12 games.
Then sophomore forward Cameron Biedscheid, who was sitting out this season to preserve a year of eligibility, decided he wanted to transfer out of Notre Dame.
The loss of Grant made Brey refigure his team before the start of ACC play.
The Irish rebounded from the loss to the Buckeyes with an 87-81 overtime win at home against Canisius on Sunday. Senior forward Tom Knight was put into the starting lineup for Grant, and senior point guard Eric Atkins was relied on to score more, finishing with a career-high 30 points.
I think our frame of mind is great on a lot of fronts, Brey said. No. 1, we had success in a tough game on Sunday, and that was good. No. 2, and maybe this should be No. 1, everybody is getting to play, so frames of mind are very positive. The nine guys that are active and available to us are all part of it.
Notre Dame will need everybody to contribute against Duke.
The Blue Devils enter today 14th in the nation in scoring, averaging 85.2 points, and margin of victory, 16.4 points. The Irish are tied for No. 39 in scoring, averaging 80.1 points, and their margin of victory is No. 66, 9.9 points.
Duke also has one of the top nations players in freshman forward Jabari Parker, who averages 21.4 points, 8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks
Hes a beautiful basketball player, Brey said of Parker. Hes the combination of great physicality as a young guy, but hes a skilled guy that has a feel for the game and really knows how to play.
The thing that has impressed me the most about him as a young guy, you look at him, the poise and the demeanor is more that of guy who has played a hundred college games. I think that is what has made them so good.